Looking back on this past year of running, I realize it was a step back kind of year for me, sort of like how Stella lost her groove. While other people and blogs are celebrating running 1,000+ miles, I barely cracked 886. In retrospect, this was the year I ran less, got slower, had a few minor injuries, and overall didn’t enjoy running as much as before.
Kind of like not seeing the forest for the trees, I couldn’t see the joy because of the pain.
The year started with a marathon in Death Valley in February. Even though I was excited to be running in the desert, I barely slogged through the training. Mostly I remember my friend, Hari, dragging me on 9 mile tempo loops around the lake after work, cursing him under my breath for making me run faster than I wanted. The race in Death Valley was one of the highlights of the year, as tough as it was, and it made me realize how much more I enjoy running smaller races in scenic locations than huge marathons in big cities.
After Death Valley, however, I truly lost my running mojo. Without a new goal race in sight, with no training plan, I became untethered. I ran sporadically, making excuses for my lack of enthusiasm for all things running, and just kind of checked out for awhile. This coincided with the decision to quit teaching, and I’m sure a general lack of direction was the culprit. It was all mental, but the body didn’t have any trouble following the lead.
Then there was the summer. The summer of unrelenting heat. The summer that almost swallowed up the rest of the year. The summer that nearly killed all desire to ever run again.The hottest summer on record in Texas history.
I decided to run the Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa and rounded up a few friends to go with me. We started training in June and trained right through the hottest temperatures any of us have ever run in. I avoid summer races like the plague, but a bunch of us let Steph talk us into running a 15K in July, the Too Hot to Hold. We knew it was crazy, but we ran it anyway, just for fun (and the hat and the tech shirt). We made friends with the heat for that one morning, and were surprised that it really wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be. Little did we know how much worse it would get.
At first it was a game: let’s see how hot it gets before it kills us! Eventually it became nothing more than depressing. Day after day after record breaking day of temperatures too crazy high to run in, we kept on running anyway. There were days I simply couldn’t talk myself into running after dark when it was still in the 100’s, and I think I reached my temperature limit at 105 degrees. Speed work and hills were out of the question for me. It was hard enough just to raise my foot off the ground for an easy run. Long runs at 6am when the temperature was already in the 90’s made me want to cry. The summer became an ultramarathon of heat, and the finish line kept getting pushed farther and farther out of reach. There was never a break, month after month of heat, and no one complained louder than I did.
Letting the heat get to me led to wildly inconsistent training, which probably caused two minor injuries that plagued me until the end of the year: ankle tendonitis and piriformis syndrome. One week I would pull it together and run 35 miles, the next I could barely rouse myself to run 10. The ankle tendonitis is an old friend, greeting me whenever I ramp up the miles too fast, kind of like shin splints. The piriformis was a completely new ailment, and reminded me a lot of plantar fasciitis because of its tenacity in holding on.
In the end, I decided to run only the half in Tulsa, which was a good decision for me. The weather was cold, the race somewhat small, and I ran the entire 13 miles with Heather, and with Bill, Hari, and Liz always close by. Afterwards, I felt as if I had been kissed by the running prince, waking me up from a long slumber of running malaise. I don’t know if it was running in the cold, running only a half marathon, or running with my friends, but suddenly I looked forward to running again.
The piriformis pain was still an issue, though, and I decided to start doing yoga again to see if that helped. I had done yoga almost daily years ago before I started running, and it was my favorite part of the day. It was the same this time as well. I do yoga almost every morning now, and sometimes after a run. It’s made a huge difference in alleviating sore muscles, I don’t feel as stiff in the mornings, and I feel more relaxed–and stronger–in general. I also realized this week, for the first time in months, that I hadn’t thought about my piriformis once during or after my last 10 mile run, and that it no longer hurt.
Yesterday I ran the Bold in the Cold half marathon in Grapevine with around 13 of my running friends. Heather, Hari, and I had already decided that it would be a training run for us, so we kept it at training pace for most of the race. At mile 7, though, at the top of a hill, I suddenly felt great, and Hari and I stepped up the pace for a few miles. It was good to know I still had some speed in my legs, and I loved that feeling of flow that only comes when you run fast.
Next up: the Eugene Marathon at the end of April. It looks like there will be a Dallas invasion for the marathon, and I am so excited. For the first time in a very long time, I’m actually looking forward to training for and running another marathon. I’m determined not to let the heat get to me this spring.
Looking back, it wasn’t that bad of a year after all. There were challenges, but nothing I couldn’t handle. This summer may have turned me into a madwoman, but we all suffered through it together, and it made us that much tougher. I got to run a marathon in my favorite setting, the desert, and I rediscovered the benefits of yoga.
Even though it was a step back kind of year overall, it eventually led me to a renewed excitement about running and reminded me why I run in the first place: because I love it, and because it’s what I do. Nothing more, nothing less than that.
Usually, five days before a marathon, I’m a mess. I’m checking the weather forecast every hour, obsessing over every slight twinge in my legs and feet, worrying about what to pack, wondering if I could’ve done anything differently in my training, not feeling like I’ve done enough, and having marathon nightmare dreams in my sleep. This time, since I’ve had to switch to the half marathon due to injuries, I keep having to remind myself that I’m actually running a race on Sunday.
What a difference minus 13.1 miles makes.
Running a half marathon when you’ve trained for a full is strange. I feel relaxed and not worried, knowing I won’t be alone. My plan is to help pace the friends I’ve trained with through the first 13 miles of their marathon, then I’ll peel off to the finish line and be done with my “race.” I’m not going to push the pace and race with the bum ankle and sore piriformis, and will try to stay with everyone around a 9:30 pace–which is about what we usually keep on our long runs.
Still, thirteen miles is nothing to sneeze at. Once you’ve run a few marathons you start to think in terms of “only” a half marathon. Ultra-marathoners probably say the same about marathons. It’s not snobbishness, it’s just that when you consistently do really long runs, half the mileage you’re training for really does seem like an “only.”
I can’t even say that I actually enjoy running marathons. They’re hard, really hard. And long. I think I prefer the training, especially the group long runs, to the race. At least that’s been my experience so far. I do feel an incredible sense of accomplishment when I’m done, and I love the total experience, no matter how miserable I am the last six miles, but I wouldn’t use the words “enjoy” and “marathon” in the same sentence.
Maybe this is because of the way I tend to race. Usually when I run a race of any distance, I start out too fast and try to hold on. Sometimes it works, usually it doesn’t. This time, I’m looking forward to keeping a somewhat comfortable pace for half the distance I’ve trained for.
Who knows, maybe I’ll actually enjoy the race this time because of it–even if it is “only” the half marathon.
Things haven’t been going so well in my training these past three weeks. The Route 66 Marathon is next weekend and I’ve had to make the decision that I can’t run it. Disappointing, especially after running through the Hottest Summer on Record in Texas, but stepping back isn’t necessarily the end of the game. I think I still have enough training under my belt to run the half marathon instead of the full.
The reason for stepping back is the nagging ankle tendonitis, which I’ve had off and on this entire training season. Despite trying everything from RICE to lower mileage, it still comes and goes. In addition, always running on a sore left ankle has probably led me to change my gait, which has resulted in a sore piriformis muscle in my other leg. This new pain in the butt, literally, has been getting progressively worse, and makes any run over six or seven miles very uncomfortable.
I really haven’t had many serious running injuries these past six years. Like most runners at some point, I’ve had both ITBS and plantar fasciitis, but only once and they never reappeared. The ankle tendonitis is another issue altogether. I used to get it all the time before I ran, when all I did was walk and do yoga. It tends to come and go through the years, and this year it’s decided to stick around for awhile. I suspect the sore piriformis will be like the ITBS and plantars and leave on its own, never to return (hopefully).
In the meantime, I’ve been cutting back my mileage (which coincided with the taper), walking, and doing a lot of yoga.
There’s a part of me that wants to go ahead and run the marathon. I know I can do it, I can gut it out and finish, but do I really want to put myself through that when I know I can’t do my best? I used to tell runners I trained with to “respect the distance” of the marathon. Time to take my own advice and accept that there will be other marathons in the future (namely, New York City in 2012 or 2013).
If someone in this same situation asked me what they should do, I would tell them not to run the marathon. If I sound like I’m trying to convince myself I’m doing the right thing by stepping back to the half, you’re right. I am.
It’s been a year since I ran my last half marathon, so I’m looking forward to running a shorter distance. The best part of Route 66 is that the half and full marathon courses don’t split off from each other until just before mile 13, which means I’ll be able to run almost the entire length of my race with the friends I’ve trained with since July. It will be hard not to continue on with them and cross the line at 26.2, but I’ll be waiting for them at the finish line a couple of hours later.
We have one final long run tomorrow of 12 miles, which I’m looking forward to. It will give me an idea of what to expect next weekend and to see how the piriformis holds up, at least over 12 miles. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I won’t make it worse.
Have you ever had to step back from your original race plans and either switch to another race or bail completely? Did you ever decide to go ahead and run a marathon, even when you were injured or hadn’t trained well?
After a strangely tough 16 miler on Friday, I woke up Saturday morning with a very sore left ankle. Again.
Tendonitis above the inside ankle has been a recurring problem of mine for years. I even had it years ago when the only exercise I did was walking and yoga, so I know it’s not solely a running thing. Sometimes I get it when I ramp up the miles too quickly–kind of like shinsplints–and sometimes it flares up when something else hurts and I change my gait.
Which is what happened on Friday.
I got busy during the week and missed a run, so I decided to make it up on Thursday night, the night before the 16 miler. Dumb idea. Usually 5 miles the night before a long run wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but for some reason this week it was.
The second half of the run I started to feel my right piriformis muscle aching all the way down into my hamstring. It got so bad I felt like I was almost limping the last few miles of the run and I think this affected my gait. My ankle was fine until the next morning, and I was surprised at how tender it was.
So much for wanting to run on Sunday. Or Monday.
This is why we RICE.
Stats: 16 miles @ 9:42 pace